This randomized, controlled trial involved 178 patients, average age 60. Half were randomized to receive arthroscopic surgery along with medical and physical therapy, the other half to medical and physical therapy alone. All had moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis of the knee.
After two years, both groups' scores on a measure of arthritis severity were about the same, with individuals in both groups experiencing improvement in symptoms.
A second study also published in the same journal issue, found that meniscal tears are common in the general population and may not, in fact, be responsible for painful symptoms.
The U.S. and Swedish authors suggested that meniscal tears detected on MRI may actually confuse matters and lead to unnecessary therapy. Further complicating matters is the fact that meniscal tears are also often associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.
The Arthritis Foundation has more on osteoarthritis.
SOURCES: Brian Feagan, M.D., professor, medicine, and director, Robarts Clinical Trials, Robarts Research Institute, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada; Robert G. Marx, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City; Robert Reeve, M.D., assistant professor, surgery, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, and director, Division of Sports Medicine, Scott & White, Temple, Texas; Sept. 11, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine